Every student deserves an equal opportunity to receive an education, regardless of gender. That is the basis of the 1972 federal law commonly known as Title IX.
Basically, the idea is that schools need to ensure that all students – regardless of gender – are able to engage in the same types of activities and learning. If a school fails in this regard, it loses federal funding.
Since the 1990s, Title IX has been interpreted to cover acts of sexual harassment, sexual violence, and other types of sexual misconduct that could hamper the learning environment for students of a particular gender. Additionally, because of the fine line between sex discrimination and sexual orientation discrimination, the law has also been interpreted to cover acts of discrimination, harassment, or violence against the LGBT community.
In other words, if a student is accused of acting inappropriately toward a student of a different gender or sexual orientation, it could be seen as a violation of Title IX, and the school could lose the money it receives from the government.
Because of this, schools have a vested interest in being seen as tough on any and all alleged acts of sexual misconduct. What does this mean in practice?
That students who have been accused of unwanted sexual acts are often treated unfairly by their school and the consequences can be devastating and life-altering.
Chicago Title IX defense attorney Andrew Weisberg has witnessed this happen on many occasions. Students accused of sexual misconduct stop being seen as students that the school has an obligation to educate. Instead, they are viewed as problems that need to be dealt with.
An investigation will typically occur, but in some cases, those involved in deciding the student’s fate will not even look at all of the evidence. As long as it seems likely that the student committed the act, they will be disciplined. This usually means expulsion and a reputation for sexual misconduct that will follow them wherever they go.
When someone accuses a student of a sexual act in violation of Title IX, the Department of Education (DOE) recommends that schools follow a very specific process:
Who decides whether or not a student should be disciplined? In Chicago, as elsewhere, it varies.
Sometimes it is a single administrator or an individual member of the faculty or staff. Other times, there is a panel that may involve multiple staff members and even students. One thing tends to be true in all of these situations: the decision-makers have little to no training in making an informed assessment in these types of matters.
Of course, that is not always true. More recently, many schools have started giving decision-making power to a single individual known as a Title IX specialist. Arguably, this is better because the investigation is being handled by someone with an in-depth understanding of Title IX. In practice, however, these people tend to be under pressure to prevent the school from having federal funds withheld.
Schools (or at least school districts) must also employ a Title IX coordinator to oversee investigations and improve the school’s response to complaints. This individual is supposed to be impartial and independent but – as with Title IX specialists – their job tends to be primarily about ensuring the school takes a tough stance against alleged violations to avoid the wrath of the DOE.
As you can see, from the process itself to the pressures that schools are under, the deck tends to be stacked against any students who are accused of sexual misconduct. To fight back effectively, you need all the help you can get.
So how can a Title IX lawyer help if you are accused or your child is facing consequences, especially if the school forbids them from directly participating in the proceedings?
The key phrase there is “directly participating.”
While it is true that, in most cases, Title IX defense attorneys are not allowed to say anything in official meetings and hearings that involve the students, there is still quite a bit they can do to help.
Specifically, Andrew Weisberg will be able to use his skill and experience in these matters to:
Essentially, a good Title IX defense lawyer uses his or her in-depth understanding of this area of the law to work behind the scenes and provide you with a better chance at getting a positive outcome.
Moreover, choosing a Title IX attorney who also specializes in defending those who have been accused of sex crimes can help if criminal charges end up being filed. They will be able to oversee both cases and coordinate your overall defense without the need for a go-between.
Few things are scarier than facing sexual misconduct accusations and feeling like you have little to no recourse to prove your innocence.
This is especially true for teens and young adults, who may not completely understand their rights or know how to stand up for themselves. When the consequences have the potential to derail your future and leave you branded as a sex offender, those fears are justified.
Do not try to handle this type of situation alone. Get in touch with a knowledgeable and experienced Illinois Title IX defense attorney, and do so as soon as possible. The faster you start working with someone who understands the law and how to protect your rights, the more likely you are to minimize the damage and come to an acceptable resolution.